This post is part of a series covering the 10 most important scientific principles underlying neuromarketing.
Emotional “somatic markers”
Emotions operate at two levels in our mental lives: one conscious, the other non- conscious. Conscious emotions are what we usually call feelings. Nonconscious emotions are what psychologists call affective states, and they include emotional somatic markers, first discovered by neuroscientist Antonio Damasio. These somatic markers (which we call emotional markers in Chapter 6, “The Central Role of Emotions in Consumer Responses”) play a crucial role in consumer decisions and responses to marketing.
Emotional markers are memories of bodily responses to experiences in the past. The emotional contents of these experiences (positive or negative, low or high intensity) are coded in memory and accessed by mental response routines that do not pass through conscious deliberation — in other words, they occur outside our awareness. Emotional markers can be triggered by primes and influence the accessibility of other thoughts when the prime is encountered.
For consumers, emotional markers play a big role in judgment and choice, greatly simplifying how we interact with the marketing world around us. Even though we may not be aware of the degree of attraction or aversion we may have “marked” for a given product or brand, those markers provide us with a nonconscious shortcut to a quick and intuitive response that “feels right” and simplifies our decision making (see Chapter 8, “Why We Buy the Things We Buy”).
According to Damasio’s somatic marker hypothesis, emotional markers are created and updated by every experience we have in our lives. This means that every time a consumer encounters a product or brand — whether directly (through personal use or consumption) or indirectly (through exposure to marketing) — is an opportunity to slightly change that consumer’s emotional markers in either a positive or negative direction and influence the consumer’s later behavior. Accordingly, understanding and measuring the direction and intensity of emotional markers in target audiences should be fundamentally important to product and brand managers in businesses of all sizes.
Processing fluency is an attribute of a stimulus (something observable in the real world around us that our brains perceive and react to), not something we generate in our minds (like an emotional marker). When we say something has processing fluency, we simply mean that it’s easy for our minds to process. Social psychologists have found that many features of a stimulus can create processing fluency, including redundancy, symmetry, and contrast. Also, prior exposure to an object, which increases its familiarity, appears to reliably improve processing fluency (see Chapter 10, “Creating Products and Packages That Please Consumers’ Brains”).
Priming and processing fluency are related. Researchers have found that objects that are preceded by a perceptual (visually related) or conceptual (meaning related) prime are more easily processed than non-primed objects. They also tend to be more liked than non-primed objects, and may even be judged as more familiar than they really are.
Processing fluency is important to marketing because our brains are cognitive misers that don’t like to work (that is, think) too hard. So, when something comes along that’s easy to process, we tend to give it special treatment. As described in Chapter 5 (“The Intuitive Consumer: Nonconscious Processes Underlying Consumer Behavior”), processing fluency has a disproportionate influence on many of our judgments and decisions as consumers. A product, package, or ad that is easy to process is more likely to be seen as more familiar, more truthful, more beautiful, less risky, and more trustworthy.